Probiotic bacteria can dramatically reduce the risk of newborns developing sepsis, scientists recently reported in the Nature journal. Researchers concluded that probiotics can be much more powerful than drugs for this reason.
Each year more than 600,000 babies die from blood infections, making sepsis one of the top killers of newborns worldwide. Sepsis can strike quickly – sometimes the only signs can be that the baby stops being active, crying or breastfeeding. By the time the baby is brought to the hospital, it often dies.
Probiotic bacteria have been considered as the answer to infections for a while, as they work well on necrotizing enterocolitis, that damages the intestines.
The difficult part according to scientists is knowing which strain of bacteria holds the most promise. According to researchers, the most promising strain is Lactobacillus plantarum, isolated from the diaper of a healthy Indian baby.
Dr Pinaki Panigrahi, a pediatrician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health who lead the studies into probiotics, decided to conduct a large-scale study on thousands of babies in rural India. The researchers were shocked by how well the bacteria worked.
Babies who ate the microbes for a week – along with sugars to feed the microbes – experienced a dramatic reduction in the risk of death and sepsis. The microbes dropped by 40% from 9 per cent to 5.4 per cent. The probiotics were also considered to ward off several other types of infection, including respiratory infections that dropped by about 30%.
The researchers were surprised because they didn’t think gut bacteria would work so well – even in a distant organ like the lungs. The treatment worked so well that the safety board for the trial stopped the study early. 8,000 babies were planned to be enrolled, but the they stopped at just over 4,000 infants.
The only side effect of any significance seen in the study was abdominal distension, occurring in six babies. However, there were more cases of this reported in the placebo group than those in the probiotic group.
How Probiotic Bacteria Could Prevent Deadly Infections
Probiotic bacteria is relatively cheap to produce, meaning it can be manufactured in a simple setting. What’s fascinating about this study is that as sepsis is a bacterial infection, it is being prevented with bacteria.
This may seem counterintuitive, but probiotic bacteria work by pushing out the harmful bacteria in the baby’s gut, by changing the environment or simply using up resources.
Probiotic bacteria produce a compound that strengthens the intestine wall and acts as a preventive barrier to prevent bad bacteria from going through the wall and into the blood.
Probiotic bacteria can also jump-start a baby’s immune system, allowing maturation of the immune system in a healthy way.
Researchers do insist however that more studies are needed and just like drugs, they need to be fully tested before they become a routine part of maternity wards worldwide.
Further testing is therefore required in more locations and on babies who have a high risk of sepsis – those born prematurely or underweight.
Along with the recent study showing how intravenous Vitamin C cuts the sepsis death rate by 500 per cent, this research shows the huge potential that probiotics have to address the problem of sepsis.
It also lends further support to considering natural solutions instead of drugs and this is especially important when caring for the health of your loved ones.
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